The “Save Winamp” movement raises its voice

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 11:00am

The Save Winamp alliance and are plugging away at AOL, which announced the sunsetting of Winamp and ShoutCast as ongoing products, as of December 20. (See RAIN coverage here.) Yesterday in RAIN, Jennifer Lane commented that the Winamp closure was inevitable. But thousands of petitioners want Winamp to continue, either as an open-source project or with a new corporate owner (rumored to be Microsoft).

In its latest gambit, has composed an open letter to AOL, formally addressed to CEO Tim Armstrong. (The letter would be better targeted to Jay Kirsch, head of AOL’s media and service brands.) The letter argues Winamp’s value to its many diehard users, and pleads for continued life by one route or the other. Interestingly, the letter cites radio stations which use Winamp for their music automation. The open letter is supported by a 40,000-signature petition

If you’re not a Winamp user, you might wonder why there’s so much fuss. Here in the RAIN editorial office, Winamp has been installed in all computers since version 1.0 came out 15 years ago. While we can relate to the sad sentiment surrounding Winamp’s demise, we also observe its increasing obsolescence as a music-playing interface. As ownership gives way to access, and local storage yields to cloud storage, Winamp fades in the shadow of music services like Rhapsody and Spotify

Winamp remains a stalwart production assistant not only for some radio stations, but for file conversion tasks -- Winamp was demonized in its early days for the facility with which it rips and burns audio tracks. But for the new generation of always-on mobile listeners, ripping and burning are quaint artifacts of a previous era.

Winamp’s Shut Down Was Inevitable

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

This article was originally published in Audio4cast.

The announcement that Winamp would shut down before the end of the year didn’t surprise me given that AOL had already abandoned its online radio platform, but it did make me pause. There have been several times this year that I have stopped and thought that surely this event is one of the signals that online audio has left the “niche” stage of its development and entered the reality of being a full blown mass appeal marketplace. One that a product like Winamp, free downloadable software that began as a tool to enable people to play all those songs they downloaded from Napster, couldn’t survive in.

In fact, I’ve wondered a lot over the years, why AOL kept updating it at all – given that the business model – getting users to pay for an improved upgrade to the player – was so weak. In fact, AOL didn’t just continue to update and distribute Winamp when it purchased Nullsoft in 1999 for $400 million, it also kept Shoutcast running all this time as well. And that was an even stranger conundrum, given that many of the biggest stations on Shoutcast were getting free bandwidth (at least a few years back they were). The deal was, at least back in the early 2000s, that you couldn’t run any ads if you wanted the free bandwidth. I never could figure out why that was. Didn’t that hurt AOL’s own Internet radio platform?

In any event, although Winamp and Shoutcast operated independently at AOL for lots of years, it seems that someone has finally noticed the lack of a business model in that department. Winamp will shut down later this month, although there is word that Microsoft may purchase the intellectual property. The end of an era that also signifies the arrival of a new one – the mature online audio marketplace, where you have to have a business model to compete…

Winamp and SHOUTcast likely to expire

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 2:00pm

Venerable music player Winamp is being discontinued by parent company AOL. The announcement marks the end of an era, at least symbolically.

As a follow-up on that news, Internet radio platform SHOUTcast, developed by Winamp and housed under the Nullsoft umbrella brand, will also have its plug pulled. SHOUTcast is an Internet streaming enabler and aggregator. Its slate of about 50,000 pureplay stations is presented as an integrated feature of the Winamp desktop player, and on its own website.

The evolution of any industry has seminal moments. For digital music, one of those moments was the introduction of Winamp in 1997, the venerable desktop audio player. Initially launched as freeware that could play MP3 files, Winamp closed the gap between the existence of compressed music files (MP3) and their usability to most people.

The revolutionary aspect of MP3 was the small size of the files, and consequently their suitability for transmission over the Internet. Peer-to-peer file-sharing was part of the consequence, from Napster to emailing between friends. Another part was streaming audio through the narrow bandwidth pipes of late-1990s home connections.

All well and good, except that an MP3 file by itself did nothing -- to use an old-media analogy, it was like a CD without a CD player. Winamp, built by Justin Frankl (who also unleashed the Gnutella file-sharing protocol ... while he was an AOL employee), was the first popular MP3 desktop player, enabling early adopters to get first listens to music files. It closed a circle, and catalyzed much of what followed: file-sharing, early subscription music services like Rhapsody and eMusic, Internet-delivered music streams generally, portable MP3 players, and even iTunes, which used a different file format and desktop player.

Winamp was acquired by AOL (via Nullsoft) in 1999. That year, Nullsoft created SHOUTcast, a music-streaming protocol and self-serve platform that allowed anyone to webcast from a connected computer. SHOUTcast’s influence was similar to Winamp’s insofar as it introduced a new listening mode to its adopters -- in this case, pureplay streaming audio stations.

Winamp has been rocked by an eventful 15 years. The blockbuster success of iTunes and its proprietary formats shifted attention away from the MP3-oriented desktop player. Even as Winamp adapted to handle emerging file formats, it could not play Apple’s locked-up DRM files during the first five years of the iTunes Music Store’s growth. The smartphone’s rise (thanks again to Apple) migrated listening activity off the desktop, and Winamp adjusted by extending to mobile apps. It also developed a strong European user base in the last few years.

But the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have further skewered Winamp’s core competency of playing locally stored music files. Access is creeping up on ownership as a means of consuming music, and AOL’s decision verifies a growing sense that Winamp’s days are numbered. AOL announced that program development will be discontinued on December 20.

Of course, existing installations of the freeware version will remain functional. The termination of SHOUTcast has more severe implications, as that service furnishes live programming.

TechCrunch reported a rumor that Microsoft might snap up both Winamp and SHOUTcast. If it plays out that way, it will be second time that recently-discarded AOL Music properties found a new home. In June of this year, several AOL Music blogs (The Boombox, Noisecreep, The Boot) were cast out of the mothership and caught in freefall by TownSquare Media, whose EVP Bill Wilson developed them when he was chief of AOL Media.

Pandora is 8th most-used smartphone app (comScore)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 7:10am

As noted in Audio4cast, Pandora landed in 8th place in comScore’s measurement of top smartphone app usage for August. This metrics category is different from smartphone audience via the phone’s browser. Some top-15 media properties (like Gmail) might have their app ranking cannibalized by browser use, and others (like Twitter) by a multiplicity of popular apps that are lower on the list.

But Pandora’s ranking is fairly pure, as the service doesn't work in a mobile browser, and there are no alternatives to the official Pandora app. On comScore's browser-plus-app usage list, which is invaded by web-based behemoths like Yahoo!, Amazon, and AOL, Pandora holds its own in 9th place.

P’s reach is measured at 43.3 percent of the app audience, which is a remarkable testimony not only to Pandora’s footprint, but to Internet radio generally, if you consider Pandora as a proxy for the medium and the consumer model it represents. If you took away ecosystem-branded apps that enjoy a built-in smartphone advantage (Google Search, for example), Pandora would rise to third, after Facebook (75.7%) and YouTube (52.8%).

Social, video, and music are the chief app-based pureplays -- with each wedging into the others’ territories to some extent.

Slacker brings on former AOL Radio/Shoutcast GM Namerow

Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 12:25pm

Leading webcaster and on-demand music service Slacker has named Lisa Namerow SVP of strategic partnership operations.

Namerow is a veteran of Internet radio, formerly general manager of the AOL Radio and Shoutcast, and later general manager of the AOL Music Network. She came to the then-named America Online in 2000 from the broadcast radio world, with experience at Saga Communications and Infinity Broadcasting.

Namerow will lead partnership operations for Slacker, with a focus on broadening existing and future partnerships, according to the company press release.

Former AOL sites acquired by Townsquare created by exec Wilson while at AOL

Monday, June 3, 2013 - 11:40am

Broadcaster Townsquare Media has acquired AOL Music online properties The Boot (country music), The BoomBox (Hip Hop and R&B), and NoiseCreep (metal). They've also picked up a comic book-related site, ComicsAlliance.

These properties, according to a Townsquare press release, will be added to the company's portfolio of music and entertainment websites, which includes sites like Loudwire, Taste of Country, PopCrush, ScreenCrush, and Okayplayer. Townsquare has also hired some of the AOL Music staffers from these sites.

Peter Kafka at AllThingsDigital writes, "This is a full-circle move, since Townsquare Media's executive vice president Bill Wilson created all four sites when he used to run AOL's content business, back in 2008 and 2009. Wilson says comScore pegs the four sites' total audience at 3.5 million U.S. uniques; The Boot is the biggest, with 1.4 million."

Wilson came to Townsquare in 2010, along with several former AOL staffers. He led Townsquare's acquisition of MOG's music blog ad network (see RAIN here).

Just over a month ago (see RAIN here), AOL Music was shut down by the corporate parent, and AOL has been selling off content assets it considers "non-core."

Kafka noted, "Uncertain for now is the future of (AOL Music properties) Winamp, the once-famous media player AOL acquired when it bought Spinner and Nullsoft for $400 million in 1999, as well as music site itself."

"Adding these premium brands to Townsquare Media’s comprehensive offering propels our scale beyond today’s 52 million U.S. monthly unique visitors," Townsquare Media Group Chairman and CEO Steven Price said in the press release.

Townsquare owns and operates more than 240 radio stations, and runs over 250 associated websites. Read more in All Things Digital here.

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